Stacks on deck: My March to-be-read pile

After a very YA heavy February (I was slumping and needed some easy reads to push my through my slump), I decided to focus on some adult fiction this month.

The star of March is definitely The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I have heard nothing but good things about this book and, even though it scares me, I’m going to dive into it headfirst. Not only have I heard great things from friends about it (bookstagram friends, work friends, etc.), but the amazing Lin-Manuel Miranda is executive producing a TV series for it. Once I heard that I knew I had to read the books before it aired. I’m hoping to get started on it this week when I take the train to Chicago and have plenty of uninterrupted reading time.

My current read for March is The Oracle Year by Charles Soule. I was graciously sent a copy by Harper Perennial in exchange for an honest review. According to Harper Perennial, The Oracle Year is for fans of Joe Hill, David Wong, and other humorous sci-fi/fantasy writers. This novel follows Will Dando, a twenty-something bassist living in New York City, after he wakes up with 108 predictions in his head. Will, with the help of a close friend, takes these predictions and monetizes them becoming the most famous, most loved, and most hated person in the world. I’m about halfway through and loving every minute of it. It’s funny, it’s intriguing, and most of all it’s incredibly well written.

If you’re interested in this book, look for it at your local bookstore on April 3!

PS. It looks like The Oracle Year is being made into a TV show too!

Another book I’m really looking forward to this month is The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Kristin Hannah’s books seem to be big hits with a lot of people and The Great Alone is not exception. I’ve been seeing multiple five-star reviews for this book all over bookstagram and Goodreads which makes me so excited to dive into this one. Another great thing about reading this book this month is that I will be reading it with some great people on bookstagram! While I’ve been impatient with buddy reads in the past, I think this book will be great to discuss with friends.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller also made my March hopeful pile this year. I’m reading it in anticipation for Circe because I really want to get a feel for the author’s writing and her take on Greek mythology. It also helps that I am a huge fan of Greek mythology and any modern take on it really interests me.

Finally, the book I think I’m going to finish out the month with is The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara. There are so many reasons I hope that I will love this book. The biggest one being that one of my best book friends gave this book a solid five-star review. I really respect her reviews and seeing her thoughts on this book made me want to read it even more. I cannot wait to get into this book, but I really want to end March on a strong note and I think this book will be that for me.

That’s my March to-be-read pile! It might change a bit because I picked from great books from Book of the Month this month and might dive into those. What are you planning to read this month?

Review of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

“Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.”

— Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward

While beautifully written, I don’t think Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward was the book for me. Knowing that Ward is a fellow University of Michigan alum and that Sing, Unburied, Sing was on Barack Obama’s 2017 reading list, I desperately wanted to love this book, but I only liked it.*

*Which, I should note, is still a good thing and I do recommend this book if you are a fan of literary fiction!

Sing, Unburied, Sing tells the story of one family, their struggles, and their strengths. The story starts with Jojo, a thirteen-year-old boy who idolizes his grandfather and wants to be a man just like him. Jojo’s mother, Leonie, is struggling even more. With her children’s father in jail, past traumas haunting her, and a drug addiction, Leonie is not equipped to raise Jojo or her daughter.

The bulk of this story revolves around the journey of the family as they go to pick up the children’s father from jail. On the road, the family face more struggles that challenge their ways of thinking and makes them question the lives they are living.

There was no question that this book was beautiful and heartbreaking. As a literary fiction, it excelled. However, some logistical problems kept me from fully falling in love with this family’s story.

Just to quickly list them out:

  • The timeline was unclear. 
    There were times when it was obvious there was a flashback happening, but other times the flashbacks or memories were nestled into the chapters. This threw me off at times and I found myself having to go back and reread sections to figure out where in time I was.
  • I didn’t truly understand the character of Richie.
    While I know Richie was a very important part of Pop’s backstory, I don’t know why he had to be included in Jojo’s story. It seemed like Jojo was not at all receptive to Richie or his message. It didn’t seem like Richie served much of a purpose except to weave some supernatural elements throughout the story.
  • The magical realism wasn’t clear.
    The magical realism throughout this novel is what left me confused most of the time. It was never clear if the “ghosts” the family were seeing were actual ghosts or hallucinations or something else entirely. While Ward wrote these moments beautifully, I didn’t quite understand how the family was seeing these supernatural occurrences and why.

My biggest issue with this novel is that, by the end, I didn’t understand why I was told this story. The issues presented at the beginning were not resolved by the end. A lot of this novel could have been removed and the ending would have stayed the same. While I felt Ward’s prose was masterful, I felt like it didn’t progress the story at times.

Despite those negatives, I do think Sing, Unburied, Sing is an important novel that needs to be out in this world. It doesn’t shy away from racism or drug abuse. It talks about these issues and doesn’t glamorize them. It shows how racism has caused many of the family’s struggles. From Pop’s time in prison to the murder of Given to Leonie’s children having a white father, the family in this novel has always faced struggles due to racism. Sing, Unburied, Sing also shows how drug use has kept Leonie from being a mother to her children and how it has pulled them away from her. This novel takes the ugly things from this world and writes about them lyrically, which left an unsettled feeling in my stomach.

Overall, I liked this book. It gets a solid three out of five stars from me.

Review of Bird Box by Josh Malerman

“How can she expect her children to dream as big as the stars if they can’t lift their heads to gaze upon them?

— Bird Box, Josh Malerman

*Note: Bird Box is the middle book in this photo. The other two novels were pretty great too!

If you’re in need of a chilling, horrifying novel, Bird Box by Josh Malerman is absolutely something you need to pick up. It didn’t matter what page of this book I was on, there was always something terrifying that took place.

Bird Box tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world in which it is not safe to open your eyes. If you do open your eyes, you risk going mad. The world is filled with “creatures” that the human mind can’t comprehend and their presence has completely changed the way the world works. Bird Box centers around Malorie who has just found out she’s pregnant as the world is falling apart around her. Five years later, Malore is trapped in an abandoned house with her two children. Her children have been raised and trained for the perfect moment to leave the house in search of a safer life. One foggy day, it’s time.

This book chronicles Malorie’s and the children’s journey down the river to safety as well as Malorie’s life leading up to this moment. Each chapter alternates years and events, but stays centered on Malorie’s story.

The premise of this novel was different from the other post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read and I thought Malerman did a phenomenal job of creating such a chilling world. He weaved tension and anxiety throughout each of the pages expertly. I was kept on my toes with each page turn, unsure of what was about to happen next. Bird Box was the perfect length. Malerman edited his book so that each word was crucial to the story and nothing was lost.

I enjoyed this read immensely and the chills stayed with me for days. Also, Josh Malerman is a metro-Detroit native just like myself so he gets even more props for that! He’s also in a local band, check out The High Strung!

A solid 4 out of 5 stars for Bird Box. If you need a chilling, horror novel then you need to pick this book up!

When good plots go bad: A review of Trenton Makes

The first thing I want to note in this review is that Trenton Makes is not for everyone. It certainly wasn’t for me. Due to it’s writing style, fans of literary fiction might enjoy the prose of this novel, but the content is what really put me off.

Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb is a debut novel about a woman carving out her piece of the American Dream by assuming the identity of a man. The book is split into two parts; part one being set in the 1940s and part two taking place in 1971.

In the 1940s a woman kills her husband in a domestic fight and takes over his identity. As Abe Kuntsler, he successfully secures employment at a wire factory and woos an alcoholic dancer named Inez. He begins to make a home with Inez, but realizes his transformation is incomplete until he can secure himself a son.

In 1971, Abe’s life is deteriorating. The life he has created is falling apart due to the stress and pressure of his lies. Abe becomes desperate to hold onto what he built and begins searching for solutions in his dying city of Trenton.

Content warnings for Trenton Makes:

Rape, violence against women, homophobia, murder, domestic abuse, racist/offensive language, sexual abuse, alcoholism

 
Unfortunately, I could not finish this book. I finished part one and had to put it down. My biggest struggle was the prose. It was very vague and flowery which made it difficult for me to read without paying super close attention. I found myself having to reread paragraphs constantly to derive some meaning, but ultimately coming away with very little. While I could appreciate that the prose was beautiful, it was very difficult to understand. There are some flashback scenes to Abe’s life before he assumes his late husband’s identity where the prose is even more of a stream of consciousness and harder to understand. It should come as no surprise that one of Koelb’s influences is William Falkner.

Despite the prose, I was still really looking forward to seeing this plot play out, but there are scenes in this novel that really ruined it for me.

Uncomfortable content ahead:

Part one of this novel ends with Abe getting his wife (Inez) and a stranger blackout drunk and raping both of them. He then proceeds to help the stranger rape his wife.
I felt it was unnecessary to the plot and it made me very uncomfortable.

 
These scenes, particularly the one above, made me question what the point of this novel was and why Koelb included this information. After this scene I knew I didn’t want to see where the novel was headed and that’s when I decided to put it on my DNF shelf.

Overall, I give this book one and a half out of five stars. While I feel the uniqueness of the plot deserves some praise, this book wasn’t for me. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend it; however, if you’ve read this review and still want to give it a try Trenton Makes comes out on March 20th of this year!

However, I want to give a huge thank you to Doubleday books for sending me a copy of Trenton Makes in exchange for an honest review. 

Review of The English Wife by Lauren Willig

“What a very odd thing … to live and leave no mark.”

 — The English Wife, Lauren Willig

I was really excited to read The English Wife by Lauren Willig. As a gothic murder mystery set in the late 1800s, it seemed like it would be full of mystery, intrigue, and all of the fun stuff needed for a historical fiction thriller. I did enjoy some parts of this novel (particularly ones with Mr. Burke, I think he may have been my favorite character), but it just didn’t do it for me.

The English Wife starts with Bayard Van Duyvil being found with a knife in his chest and his wife, Annabelle, missing. One side thinks Annabelle is a victim and had been drowned by the real culprit, the other side thinks she is the one who killed her husband. With the mystery surrounding this crime, the press is all over the story and Janie Van Duyvil (Bayard’s sister) sets out to find the truth. Janie forms an alliance with James Burke, a reporter hellbent on solving this case, to figure out who killed her brother and what happened to Annabelle.

My biggest issue with this book is the pacing. This book starts out fast-paced with the crime happening right in the first five pages, but then it jumps to five years prior with a character not mentioned prior or in any synopses telling the story. It then continues to jump between 1899 and the years prior (sometimes even in the middle of a chapter). For me, this threw the pacing off. The earlier chapters are very slow and build backstory to of Bayard and Annabelle’s marriage. The chapters that take place in 1899 alternate between slow and fast-paced. Some parts of the 1899 story were about solving the crime and others were building a strange relationship between all of the other characters. Honestly, I felt like I was getting whiplash from how often the pace changed.

Another issue I had with this book was the characters. I didn’t feel connected to any of them. Not Bayard, not Janie, and especially not Annabelle. They didn’t come to life on the page for me. I didn’t even feel any love between the characters. Bayard and Annabelle’s relationship felt forced and confusing. Janie seemed to have no relationship with Bayard which made me really confused as to why she was so determined to solve her brother’s murder. I didn’t understand the purpose of Anne, Janie and Bayard’s cousin, and what part she played other than to make Janie’s life difficult (also, with her name being so close to Annabelle, it just made things even more confusing).

And then there were Bayard and Annabelle’s children. I have absolutely no clue why they were in this story. They added nothing and I mean absolutely nothing. They didn’t make me believe Bay and Annabelle’s marriage more, they were kept in the dark about the crime, and they seemed to just get in the way. I’m not sure what Willig wanted to accomplish with including them, but I didn’t see a point to them.

Overall, I think Willig did succeed in creating a mystery because I wasn’t fully expecting the twist at the end, but this book gets two and a half out of five stars from me. It went on too long and I didn’t really understand the point of this story.

“I wish you more happiness than can fit in a person”: A review of We Are Okay

“I was okay just a moment ago. I will learn how to be okay again.”

— We Are Okay, Nina LaCour

There is no doubt in my mind that We Are Okay by Nina LaCour is a five-star book.

We Are Okay is a heart wrenching, beautiful, and uniquely human. LaCour did an amazing job with capturing human emotion within the pages of this book. I felt for every character – even ones who only appear for short stretches.

We Are Okay tells a story of grief, love, and betrayal through experiences of Marin. Marin leaves her hometown for the quiet, lonely sanctuary of a New York college campus. Marin has isolated herself from everyone, the only exception being her roommate, as she quietly suffers a devastating loss. It isn’t until her best friend from home, Mabel, arrives that Marin must face her grief and events from her past.

Personally, I believe the best part of this book is LaCour’s writing. She makes the reader feel Marin’s pain as her words bring grief and loss to life. Marin’s past unfolds on the pages in front of you as she is struggling to deal with the events. It is almost like LaCour wanted you, as the reader, to discover what happened to Marin as she is coming to terms with it herself.

My biggest complaint is that I wished the book were longer. I wanted to dive into Marin and Mabel’s relationship, learn how Marin became reliant on her roommate, and see into the thoughts and feelings of Marin’s grandfather. LaCour made these characters so real and I wanted to know everything about them. That being said, I think We Are Okay was the perfect telling of Marin’s story. It made the people in her life as real as she was, but ultimately was her telling of how she handled loss and betrayal.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It was a quick read, but so worth your time.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr: A review

In celebration of the premiere of The Alienist on TNT last night, I thought I would tell you my thoughts on the book.

I read The Alienist by Caleb Carr to prepare myself for the TV show and because my mom highly suggested (and when your bookworm mom suggests something, you listen). I’ve mentioned before that I am a sucker for true crime. I love reading, listening to, and watching all things true crime. While The Alienist is a work of fiction, it felt like it drew a lot of inspiration from true crime and that’s what made me love it.

The Alienist tells the story of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and his work to solve some of the first serial killings in Gilded Age New York City. Kreizler is an “alienist” or, what we now call, a psychologist. This book starts with Dr. Kreizler summoning his friend John Moore to view the mutilated body of a young boy. This moment sparks an investigation that causes uproar and danger to those around them.

My biggest issue with this story is how slow the pacing is at the beginning of the novel. Carr writes a lot of exposition and back story through the eyes of John Moore. It takes a little while to get into the novel and into the crime solving aspect of it, but once you do… wow, does this book really take off. Once I got to that point, I did not want to stop reading. I texted my mom so many times asking her if my theories were right (she did the right thing by not telling me anything until after I had finished) because I wanted to non-stop talk about this book. I even bored my boyfriend and talked to him about it! It was just that thought-provoking.

I loved the dynamic between all of the characters. Each character brought something important to the team and without them, the case couldn’t have been solved. There was always intrigue about each character as well. Carr, master of exposition, provided you with back stories to each character throughout the novel. He really created the sense that these could have been real people solving horrendous murders in the late 1800s and I really enjoyed that.

Carr also brought the murderer to life on the pages. You don’t meet the murderer until the very end, but they feel like a very real entity throughout the entire novel. Kreizler’s method of piecing the person together brought a sense to the reader (and the characters) that the person committing the murders was a very real person with very dangerous tendencies.

I found myself completely sucked into this book throughout the last half. It was entertaining, creepy, and a little chilling how realistic Carr made his murderer. I cannot wait to watch how TNT brings this book to life on screen. I’m sure it’ll be great though!

The Alienist got four out of five stars from me! I am definitely planning on reading the next book that features Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and his team.

If you’re interested in learning more about the show, click here.

No visitors. No contact. No return.: A review of The Blinds

“There’s nothing special about this place, he thinks. We all forget. Then we forget what we forgot. And that’s how we survive.”

 —  The Blinds, Adam Sternbergh

I was very impressed with The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh. It was well-developed, well-written, and incredibly interesting.

The Blinds is a modern Western thriller that takes place in the town of Caesura. It is  populated with criminals who have been pulled from their lives and had their memories altered. These people were granted a second chance to live a quiet life away from the prying eyes of society. They are free to leave at any time, but, if they do leave, they’ll end up dead.

Caesura has been running smoothly for eight years thanks to Sheriff Cooper (I pictured him as Hopper from Stranger Things). However, after a murder and a suicide in quick succession, the town begins to question their safety. Not only does Cooper need to protect his residents, but he needs to protect his secrets. With a deputy that keeps prying and outsiders that are threatening to tear the town apart, Caesura is no longer the quiet escape from the world it once was.

I would say calling this book a modern Western is incredibly accurate. It has elements of a Western as well as a thriller. This book was a page-turner for me. I kept reading because I had to find out what in the world was going on in the town of Caesura and what Cooper was hiding.

I found the characters incredible interesting, especially when their backstories were revealed. It was obvious to me that Sternbergh put a lot of thought into his characters and the memories they wanted to forget. This book begs the question, if you don’t remember what you did and you are a completely different person, isolated from the world, should you still be held accountable for your actions? What warrants a second chance?

There were many interesting themes explored at a quick pace. There were surprises at every turn and I was kept guessing throughout most of the story. My only complaint (and it’s a small one), is that the ending wrapped up a little too neatly. After the huge reveals at the end, it seemed difficult for me to believe that things would have been that easy to wrap up.

All that being said, I give The Blinds a three and a half out of five stars. I really liked this book and was completely engrossed in the story. If you’re looking for an interesting, western style thriller, this book is for you!

How to Find Love in a Bookshop: A review

Have I got a book for all of you book lovers.

The whole premise of this book is love and, well, books.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry tells the story of all of the people who have had their lives impacted by a local bookshop and it’s owner. Most of the story focuses on Nightingale Books and Emilia Nightingale’s struggles to save the business after her father’s passing; however, stories of others are spread throughout its pages to give you an idea of just how much influence Nightingale Books had on the people of Peasebrook.

A great of this book was how the characters came to life throughout the story. I found myself feeling like I knew Emilia and her father, Julius, as if I lived in Peasebrook myself. I felt for Thomasina and found myself encouraging her to power through her shyness. I wanted to hug Alice and tell her what a terrible decision she was making with Hugh… Henry did an amazing job making me feel like I truly knew the characters in the world she had created.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop was a truly lovely read. Despite the sadness woven throughout, the book told a happy tale about love and human connection. I think that my favorite part about this book was its message about connection and how just one person can have such an impact on everyone, even in death. Although Julius was not physically present in the book (save for the exposition chapter about how Emilia came into his life), you could feel his influence through all of Peasebrook.

Henry’s writing style was lovely and got me lost in the book’s pages. In the story, the lives of the characters, the city of Peasebrook… everything. Everything in this book was so heartfelt and had me wishing I could experience the love created by Nightingale Books.

If you love books and find yourself happy when you’re surrounded by them, I highly suggest you lose yourself in the world of How to Find Love in a Bookshop. It tells the story of so many types of love (especially a love of books) and I don’t think you’ll regret reading this book.

Stacks on stacks: Books I hope to read in January

In lieu of a traditional to-be-read pile for the month, I have my stack of “hopefuls”. My hopefuls are books that I want to get to in January, but if I add or subtract from it, there is no harm done.

There are a couple books missing from this stack. One of them being my January pick from Book of the Month Club. My pick this month was Red Clocks by Leni ZumasRed Clocks is a dystopian novel that some have compared to a modern day The Handmaid’s Taleso there was no question it would be my pick. The other book missing is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Confession time… I have never read the Harry Potter series so this will be my first read through. I’m joining a group of people reading the series throughout the year and will be discussing my thoughts with them. I’m very excited!

Moving onto the stack above, I’ve already finished one of these books (We are Okay by Nina LaCour) and will be posting a review soon because it was absolutely beautiful. I have picked up The Alienist by Caleb Carr as my next read for a couple of reasons. One, my mom and I were at Barnes & Noble recently and she pointed this series out to tell me how much she loved it. I take her recommendations so seriously because my mom is where I got my love of reading from. Two, the show on TNT premieres at the end of this month so I definitely need to finish the book before I start watching the show!

After I finish The Alienist, I have no idea where I will go next in my stack. There’s Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden which has caught my eye again and again. It seems like a heart-wrenching memoir that I have to be ready for, but something important to read.

I also am dying to read Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff for quite some time. It is in a completely different format from other books with documents and conversations scattered throughout. I’ve also seen nothing by high ratings on this book (and I’ve pre-ordered the other books in the series), so it is a must read this month.

Another book I am hoping to get through this month is The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. The entire Raven Cycle series has come highly recommended to me and I want to get started on it and immerse myself in a fantasy world again. I’m thinking this one will be next after The Alienist, but who knows where my hopeful pile will take me!

The final book that I’d love to get to by the end of the month is The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. This series caught my eye a while ago and when I received all of my Christmas gift cards, I bought the whole thing. I really enjoyed Patrick Ness’ Release and think I will love this series. The only scary this is that The Knife of Never Letting Go is a big book and will take me a little longer to read. But! I need to stick with my resolution of reading larger books in 2018.

Wish me luck on this pile and tell me in the comments what you’re looking forward to reading this month!

PS. If you’re interested in joining Book of the Month Club, click this link for my referral code! You’ll get your first month for only $10 and a free tote bag. Book of the Month Club is one of my favorite monthly subscription services. It has been a great way for me to discover books I wouldn’t have read otherwise. You can skip any month (without losing credits) if the selections aren’t for you. Seriously, check it out!